Pandoro: A Holiday Bread to Trifle With

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Panettone, the sweet, yeasted domed Italian holiday bread studded with raisins and candied fruit, has legions of fans in Italy and around the globe. I, however, am partial to the other Italian holiday bread: Pandoro.

Pandoro (the word means ‘golden bread’ in Italian) is a tall, star-shaped leavened sweet bread that is produced in Verona, in Italy’s Veneto region. Its rich golden color is due to the egg yolks used to make the bread. Pandoro dates back at least to the 18th Century, possibly earlier, when it was enjoyed by Venetian aristocracy. It is similar to panettone, but lighter in texture, with no raisins or candied fruit–just a soft, airy crumb and a delicate, buttery sweet flavor. It reminds me of brioche, but with a more tender exterior crust. I hesitate to even call it bread, as it is really more like a very airy cake. Pandoro comes wrapped in a cellophane bag and packaged in a cardboard box. The package always includes an envelope of vanilla sugar to sprinkle over the top of the cake, which makes it look like a snow-capped star-shaped mountain.

At Christmastime I always buy at least two Pandoro cakes, as they disappear quickly at our house. Mostly we just slice it and enjoy it plain for breakfast, or serve it along with Christmas cookies for dessert. It’s perfect for dunking into cappuccino or hot chocolate.

But for New Year’s I like to make a Pandoro trifle, a recipe I created for my book Big Night In. The cake’s airy texture and delicate buttery flavor make it a wonderful base for a luscious, billowy trifle, and its star shape gives the dessert a festive and celebratory look. If you are having company, this trifle, with its layers of liquor-spiked cake, rich mascarpone pastry cream, and macerated strawberries, is a fine way to ring in the New Year.

The Italian version of the trifle, called zuppa inglese, always contains some sort of liquor, and for this trifle I use vin santo, the dessert wine from Tuscany, whose distinct flavor is echoed in the sweet flavor of the cake. Both Pandoro and vin santo are much easier to find than they once were in the U.S., and are definitely worth searching out for this shamelessly extravagant dessert.

Buon Appetito e Buon Anno a tutti! Wishing you all the best in 2011!

Makes 12 to 15 servings

Pandoro Trifle with Vin Santo

from Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style, by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books, 2008)

Pandoro, which means "golden bread" in Italian, is a tall star-shaped leavened sweet bread from Verona. It is similar to the Italian Christmas bread panettone, but it is lighter in texture and contains no raisins or candied fruit. It makes a perfect base for trifle. Although numerous steps are required to make the trifle, they are all simple. In fact, it is a perfect dessert for a crowd, as it feeds many and is best when made a day ahead. The pastry cream may be made up to 2 days in advance.


  • For the pastry cream:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 8 ounces mascarpone

  • For the strawberry filling:
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

  • For the trifle:
  • 1 whole Pandoro cake
  • 1/2 cup vin santo (see Cook's Note)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 to 5 large ripe strawberries, hulled and cut lengthwise into thin slices
  • 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds


For the pastry cream:

Pour the milk into a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan. With a paring knife, split open the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk. Add the pod to the milk and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil and immediately remove the pot from the heat so that the milk does not boil over.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar until the mixture is pale yellow. It should form a "ribbon" when lifted with the whisk as it falls back into the bowl. Stir in the flour. Ladle a little of the hot milk into the egg mixture, stirring vigorously to prevent the eggs from cooking. Continue to gradually ladle milk into the eggs until you have added about half of the milk. Pour the mixture back into the pan with the remaining hot milk, whisking as you go. Bring the milk and egg mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously with a whisk or wooden spoon. It will thicken as it reaches a boil. Immediately turn the heat to low and continue to cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring continuously to avoid scorching.

Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap. Press the wrap right onto the surface of the cream; this will prevent a tough skin from forming. Let the pastry cream come to room temperature, and then refrigerate it.

Whip the heavy cream and mascarpone together with the 2 remaining tablespoons of sugar until it just holds its shape. Gently fold the whipped-cream mixture into the chilled pastry cream. Refrigerate while you prepare the strawberries.

For the strawberry filling:

Place the strawberries in a bowl and toss them with the sugar and lemon juice. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the strawberries macerate at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes.

For the trifle:

Remove the cake from its box and cellophane wrapper. Use a serrated knife to cut a thin slice off the bottom to remove the bottom crust. Slice off the top of the cake in a piece about 3/4 inch thick and set it aside. You will use this star-shaped piece to garnish the trifle.

Starting from the wider bottom end of the pandoro, cut the cake into 3/4-inch-thick slices (you may not use all of the cake for the trifle; the leftovers can be stored in the cellophane wrapper). Place a slice in the bottom of an 8-inch-wide by 5-inch-deep trifle bowl or other large glass bowl of similar size. The star shape of the slice of cake will leave gaps in the layer; fill these in by tearing up another slice of cake and fitting the pieces into the gaps.

Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer of cake with one-third of the vin santo. Spoon one-third of the macerated strawberries over the cake and drizzle a little of the juice over them. Spread one-third of the chilled pastry cream over the moistened cake, smoothing it out with a spatula.

Set another layer of cake on top of the pastry cream layer and fill in the gaps as needed. Brush with another one-third of the vin santo and spoon another third of the strawberries and their juices over the cake. Top with a second layer of pastry cream.

Make a third, final layer of cake, vin santo (reserve 1 tablespoon), strawberries and juice, and pastry cream. Whip the 1 1/2 cups heavy cream with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and the remaining tablespoon of vin santo until it is just stiff. Spread the whipped cream over the top layer of pastry cream. Arrange the strawberry slices in a circle around the rim of the trifle. Set the reserved top of the cake, cut side up, in the center of the trifle. Cover the trifle tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spread the slivered almonds in one layer on a small baking sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until they are fragrant and lightly toasted. Let them cool completely.

When you are ready to serve the trifle, remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top. Bring the trifle to the table and use a large serving spoon to scoop it into individual custard cups or ice cream bowls.

Cook's Note: Vin santo, "sainted wine," is a sweet (or sometimes dry) wine that is produced in several regions in Italy, including Tuscany, Umbria, and the Veneto. It is made from late-harvested grapes that are also air-dried before being pressed. The fermented juice is aged for 3 to 5 years in small barrels traditionally made from chestnut but now made mostly from oak.

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8 Responses to Pandoro: A Holiday Bread to Trifle With

  1. Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle December 29, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    This sounds amazing Domenica; now wondering where I might find Pandoro bread. I’ve never been a fan of Panettone; I just don’t like those dried fruits in anything but Pandoro sounds wonderful and this trifle; well, IT’S nothing to trifle with!

    • Domenica December 29, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

      Thanks, Barb. I get my Pandoro at an Italian deli not too far from my house. It can be ordered online at places like AG Ferrari. My kids love it for breakfast.

  2. Liz the Chef December 29, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    What a magnificent trifle – never heard of Pandoro but Little Italy is only a couple of miles down the hill. Thanks for THE holiday dessert of the season!

    • Domenica December 29, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

      Thanks, Liz. It’s definitely worth seeking out. So light and delicious. You should be able to find it in Little Italy. Good luck & happy New Year!

  3. Sara December 29, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    Gorgeous looking trifle! I have to order your wonderful book..asap! 🙂

    • Domenica December 29, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

      Thank you, Sara. Happy New Year!

  4. Chef Chuck January 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    Looks delish!! I like the mascarpone addition!
    Thank you 🙂


  1. Italy on a Plate - The Week in Italian Food: Jan 2, 2011 - Food Lover's OdysseyFood Lover's Odyssey - March 3, 2015

    […] leftover pandoro?  Make Pandoro Trifle with Vin Santo – Domenica […]

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